In continuing with the theme of parenting kids in the digital age, I came across this advice from Nir Eyal, Stanford Business School instructor, former video game and advertising executive, and author of “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life”. Eyal writes in his latest book that like the human body requires nutrition, the human mind also requires psychological nutrients to satisfy its needs in order to flourish. If these needs are not met, kids (and adults) will often resort to unhealthy behaviors such as video game or social media addictions. Eyal proposes three “psychological nutrients” to help keep kids focused and more resistant to the distractions of technology.
First is Autonomy: In the western school system, kids are given very little freedom in choices and goal setting. Kids give up control of their attention when it’s continuously managed by an adult. The advice given by Eyal is that parents should work with kids to create their own boundaries with tech usage and teach them why activities such as screen time should be limited. Setting rules with your kids rather than for them will provide a sense of ownership in the decisions and they will be much more willing to follow your guidance.
Second is Competence: Overly structured academic and athletic activities may hinder a kids progressive path to success. The fact that kids have different developmental rates and interests, combined with pressures and expectations, often creates the feeling that achieving competence is impossible. Kids may turn to unhealthy activities to experience growth, development and success. Video games and social media are able to fill this void by providing immediate feedback, reward and feelings of success. Eyal writes from his experience that video game designers purposefully create products to satisfy these needs through “leveling up”, gaining followers or getting more “likes”. Structured academic and athletic activities are not in and of themselves bad, but parents can help improve outcomes by allowing kids some freedom to pursue what they enjoy and support them in creating ‘small wins’ and competence in their activities.
Third is Relatedness: Free play time has steadily declined over the past 50 years, reducing the ability for kids to form close social bonds with peers, yet the desire to connect remains the same. This void is often filled online with multiplayer video games or social media. Parents should give their kids more free time for in-person unstructured interactions to help foster that need for connection and importance.